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redeyechicago.com

Local Q&A: California Wives

Andy Downing for RedEye

1:58 PM CDT, August 20, 2012

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California Wives' full-length debut "Art History" is littered with song titles taken from cities both near ("Los Angeles") and far ("Tokyo").

According to frontman Jayson Kramer, however, the guitar rockers, who first got together in 2009, have yet to spend much time outside the Midwest. That's all set to change in the coming days as the group sets off in a newly purchased vehicle--dubbed the Silver Bullet Van in honor of Bob Seger's longtime backing crew--for a nationwide tour that will take them from Portland, Maine to San Francisco.

Reached at home in Uptown, Kramer, 26, discussed the inspiration behind "Art History," his love of "Blade Runner" and why you'd never want to challenge the onetime premed student to a game of Operation.

You named the debut album "Art History." Are you much of a painter?

I'm not really much of a painter. I do enjoy painting quite a bit though.

I did find it interesting there are so many mentions of different colors scattered throughout the album--reds and purples and blues and so on.

Yeah. What's that condition where you associate sounds with colors? I think it's called synesthesia. Maybe I have some of that. I like the way colors work in the lyrics so they pop up a lot. "Blood Red Youth." "Purple." There was a time I was putting colors in too many songs and I had to stop myself.

Obviously, a number of these songs touch on this idea of aging. Why do you think the subject is such a rich source of inspiration for you?

I've been struggling for many years with that idea of what happens to me when it's my time. Getting old has always been a source of anxiety, and I think it comes through in the music. I went to school for science ... and I was taking philosophy courses and there was all this talk of what happens when you close your eyes for the last time. It's always been a great source of curiosity, so it tends to pop up in the songs and it will probably keep popping up.

So do you dread birthdays?

[Laughs] I'm one of those people where it's just another day. Birthdays are funny. I feel you get credit for something you had nothing to do with. It's like, "Well, I wasn't involved in this decision whatsoever." My parents should be the ones getting the party.

You mentioned studying pre-med in undergrad. Were you really good at the board game Operation as a kid?

I do take a certain pride in my motor skills. I did see there's like a C-3PO or R2-D2 Operation, and I really want to buy it. I was always fascinated with medicine, and I got to shadow in an emergency room and see some crazy things. I respect the people who can live that lifestyle. It's incredibly intense and demanding and it just wasn't for me.

Have you ever been tempted to cover "Dr. Feelgood" onstage just because?

[Laughs] I don't know. That's definitely not my favorite hair metal band. If I had to pick, I'd definitely want to cover some Def Leppard or Guns N' Roses.

Is the song "The Fisher King" named for the Terry Gilliam movie?

No it's not, but we are very much so Terry Gilliam fans.

Do you consider yourself a film buff?

Yeah. I mean, I don't want to put myself out there and say that I know a lot, but I'm a big fan of film. We all are, really.

Do you feel like your musical aesthetic matches up with any director in particular?

That's a really good question. We really enjoy '80s science-fiction movies, and a lot of the synth sounds in there make me think "Blade Runner," which is obviously Vangelis (the Greek composer behind the film's electronic score). I think we've always wanted to write a Vangelis soundtrack.

You studied pre-med and named your album "Art History." Considering these high-minded pursuits and concepts, I was wondering what you do when you want to turn your brain off? Like are you a huge pro wrestling fan?

[Laughs] We do like PlayStation a lot. I also picked up skateboarding again, so I've been doing that to shut my mind off. We're a pretty laid back band. If people were to hang out with us we wouldn't be sitting there putting on really obscure artists and arguing about their relevance. I think we'd just put on a Bob Seger record and enjoy the fact he can sing the (bleep) out of those songs.

California Wives, 8 p.m. Wed. at Lincoln Hall, $10

Jayson Kramer personality test
What's the last album you bought? "I've been getting into Fleetwood Mac, and I bought 'Tusk' and really, really like it."
Song you've listened to on repeat recently? "Everywhere" by Fleetwood Mac
Song you never want to hear again? "Probably something by Justin Bieber. What is that song, 'Baby?' I really don't want to hear that anymore."
Best concert you've seen in the last year? "I saw Big Science recently. They're a Chicago band, and I love those guys."
New band you don't know personally that deserves to be big? "Deserters. They're a Chicago band...and if people haven't heard them they should listen to their EP. It's great."
Favorite movie ever? "Blade Runner"
Chicago's best music venue? "Lincoln Hall. The sound is great, it feels good when you're up there onstage and they do a great job of bringing in good bands."